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Scott v. Suelter

United States District Court, Seventh Circuit

May 20, 2013

BRYCE R. SCOTT, Plaintiff,
v.
GERALD W. SUELTER, et al., Defendants.

OPINION

MICHAEL P. McCUSKEY, District Judge.

This case is before the court for ruling on the First Motion in Limine (#87) filed by Defendants, Gerald W. Suelter, Timothy L. Wight, Jeremy J. Layman, James A. Krider, Andrew Smith and Conor Wowra. This court has carefully considered Defendants' Motion and the Response (#88) filed by Plaintiff, Bryce R. Scott, with attached case law. Following this careful and thorough review, this court rules as follows: (1) Defendants' First Motion in Limine (#87) is GRANTED in part and DENIED in part.

ANALYSIS

STANDARD

The "motion in limine is an important tool available to the trial judge to ensure the expeditious and evenhanded management of the trial proceedings." Jonasson v. Lutheran Child & Family Servs. , 115 F.3d 436, 440 (7th Cir. 1997). "Although the Federal Rules of Evidence do not explicitly authorize in limine rulings, the practice has developed pursuant to the district court's inherent authority to manage the course of trials." Luce v. United States , 469 U.S. 38, 41 n.4 (1984). District courts have "broad discretion in ruling on evidentiary questions during trial or before on motions in limine. " Jenkins v. Chrysler Motors Corp. , 316 F.3d 663, 664 (7th Cir. 2002). A motion in limine "performs a gatekeeping function and permits the trial judge to eliminate from further consideration evidentiary submissions that clearly ought not be presented to the jury because they clearly would be inadmissible for any purpose." Jonasson , 115 F.3d at 440. Therefore, the moving party bears the burden of establishing that the evidence is not admissible for any purpose. Mason v. City of Chicago , 631 F.Supp.2d 1052, 1056 (N.D. Ill. 2009). Unless this high standard is met, rulings on evidentiary matters should be deferred until trial so that issues of foundation, relevance and prejudice may be resolved in the proper context. Mason , 631 F.Supp.2d at 1055-56; Townsend v. Benya , 287 F.Supp.2d 868, 872 (N.D. Ill. 2003); see also Jonasson , 115 F.3d at 440. In addition, any ruling in limine may be subject to change as the case unfolds and the court is free, in the exercise of sound judicial discretion, to alter a previous in limine ruling. Betts v. City of Chicago , 784 F.Supp.2d 1020, 1023 (N.D. Ill. 2011).

DEFENDANTS' FIRST MOTION IN LIMINE

A. Evidence of Other Incidents

Defendants' first request is that this court exclude evidence pertaining to other incidents of police misconduct unrelated to the incident involving Plaintiff, such as prior allegations of misconduct against individual officers. In his Response, Plaintiff stated that he does not object to this motion. Plaintiff further stated, however, that Defendants' reasoning in support of its request should cut both ways, meaning that Defendants should not be able to enter into evidence testimony or documents pertaining to other incidents involving Plaintiff and law enforcement officers. Plaintiff stated that, if Defendants are not in agreement, Plaintiff will address this issue in his own motions in limine.

Because Plaintiff has not objected to Defendants' first request, this request is GRANTED.

B. Testimony Regarding City of Peoria Policies and General Orders

Defendants next requested an order excluding any mention of the Peoria Police Department's General Orders, rules or policies and any violation thereof. Defendants argued that the Seventh Circuit has consistently held that the violation of departmental policies or orders is irrelevant to a Fourth Amendment claim, citing Thompson v. City of Chicago , 472 F.3d 444 (7th Cir. 2006). Defendants argued that the evidence is similarly irrelevant to Plaintiff's state law battery claims. In Thompson, the Seventh Circuit stated:

The fact that excessive force is "not capable of precise definition" necessarily means that, while the [Chicago Police Department's] General Order may give police administration a framework whereby commanders may evaluate officer conduct and job performance, it sheds no light on what may or may not be considered "objectively reasonable" under the Fourth Amendment given the infinite set of disparate circumstances which officers might encounter.

Thompson , 472 F.3d at 454. The court then stated that, "[w]hat's more, this court has consistently held that 42 U.S.C. ยง 1983 protects plaintiffs from constitutional violations, not violations of state laws or, in this case, departmental regulations and police practices.'" Thompson , 472 F.3d at 454, quoting Scott v. Edinburg , 346 F.3d 752, 760 (7th Cir. 2003). The court held that "the violation of police regulations or even a state law is completely immaterial as to the question of whether a violation of the federal constitution has been established." Thompson , 472 F.3d at 454; see also Whren v. United States , 517 U.S. 806, 815 (1996) (concluding that, because police rules, practices and regulations vary from place to place and from time to time, they are an unreliable gauge by which to measure the reasonableness of police conduct). The court in Thompson also concluded that the evidence was properly excluded under Rule 403 of the Federal Rules of Evidence with respect to the plaintiff's state law claim. See Thompson , 472 F.3d at 456-57. In addition, the court in Thompson expressly addressed, and rejected, the notion that a limiting instruction could render evidence of a failure to adhere to General Orders admissible. Thompson , 472 F.3d at 457.

In his Response, Plaintiff argued that other district courts have allowed such evidence and also argued that while he "has no intention of arguing that disregard of a rule is proof that the constitution has been violated, breaches of protocol may nevertheless be probative to facts in dispute." Plaintiff argued that he intends to show that the Peoria Police Department provides certain rules about how certain situations are expected to be handled such as when officers arrive on the scene of a traffic stop as well as when making an arrest. Plaintiff argued that this evidence "would obviously be relevant to the claims and defenses in this case if Plaintiff can show that protocol was breached during the police interactions with Plaintiff on the scene." Plaintiff also argued that this ...


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